An Arctic Meltdown

The Arctic region constitutes one sixth of the Earth’s landmass.  As a result of the intrusive activities of corporations and governments around the world, the Arctic's ice caps have declined in size by about 10% over the last 30 years.  With 2016 temperatures among the warmest in history, the pace of global melting has escalated greatly this year. According to NASA, Arctic sea ice (frozen seawater floating on top of the Arctic Ocean) is currently at the smallest size ever seen on satellite record.  Over the past 30 years, the amount of sea ice in the Arctic has decreased by 8%, or nearly 1 million square kilometres, which is an area larger than all of Norway, Sweden, and Texas combined.

Arctic ice acts as an umbrella for the more populated areas. The Arctic reflects the sun’s heat back into space in order to keep the planet cool and this in turn stabilizes weather systems. Due to pollution, increased burning of fossil fuels and other intrusive human activities, the sea ice in the Arctic has been melting rapidly with adverse effects upon global weather patterns. 

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, polar bears could become endangered as early as 2025 due widespread damage to the Arctic environment. If Earth continues to absorb an increasingly greater percentage of the sun’s rays, it will lead to the warming of the planet at faster and faster rates.

Oil drilling and toxic chemicals have contributed greatly to the expedited shrinking of Arctic ice caps.  Whenever huge oil companies roll out plans to drill for oil in Alaska or in the Russian Sea and within Canada's Arctic circle, billions will be spent on preparatory oil-drilling activities, support vessels and aircraft visits that will impact this previously pristine wilderness.

Environmental groups such as Greenpeace are committed to preserve the nature of the Arctic.  The organization has sent out Esperanza (which means “hope” in Spanish) to stop Shell’s oil-drilling activities.  In April 2015, Esperanza followed Shell’s Polar Pioneer rig across the Pacific Ocean and six Greenpeace activists scaled the rig, and stayed there for 6 days.  

Within a year of Greenpeace successfully drawing world attention to the escalation of oil drilling in the Arctic region, Shell agreed to cancel its Arctic drilling plans.  The plunge in global oil prices was the most likely reason for Shell to change its plans, yet it is still great to see that peaceful environmental activism can be effective.   

We must continue to be vigilant to protect the Great White North. Richard Steiner, a conservation biologist who taught at the University of Alaska, and now works as a consultant for Greenpeace, claims:  “The Arctic Ocean is severely struggling with climate change. It’s a disaster. Drilling will simply add additional impacts and risks of a spill.” Oil spills and greenhouse gas emissions pose substantial risk to wildlife. 

Several national governments are complicit in the environmental contamination of the Arctic. Russia has been militarising Siberia and the lands to the north of Ukraine. In 2015 Russia also sent 40,000 troops, 15 submarines, and 40 warships to the northern Arctic to claim sovereignty over the land.  The United States and Canada voiced disapproval at Russia’s territorial gambit.  

Is Russia going to start a war to test the willingness of the international community to a land claim over the Arctic?  Probably not, but it appears that these 3 countries - and China too -will be engaging in political and diplomatic battles over Arctic land claims for the next few years.  FYOUTH hopes that a spike in global awareness of the plight of the inhabitants of the Arctic and the disturbing pace of environmental degradation will lead to critical improvements in global climate change policies.

By: Micha Salazar (age 18)

Updated on August 22. 2016

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